Yah, Mon; Jamaica was a kick – a kick in the brain, a kick in the heart. What you won't hear in the travel guides: Jamaica has a dirty little secret. I brought to the iconic city of Kingston, leaders who wanted to learn how a city still recovering from a legacy of colonization and slavery and the resulting poverty could take hold of its destiny to be a “blessing to all nations,” as its national pledge promises. The beach was nice. But Jamaica hides dirty little secrets just ten minutes away from the surf. It was there that we saw God at work.
One Love: We prayer-walked the streets of its most feared enclave, Trench Town, through passageways and alleys that just two years ago would have spelled a violent end to us. Those who led us had established a transformational presence through business development, job placement, a vibrant and visible church, regular prayer walks, and collaborative ministry among church and Christian non-profits. One of our students, Sandra Morgan, is at the heart of this effort – The Agency for Inner-City Renewal – and we explored the aspects of that work that could be replicated in cities across the world. Indeed we did learn the power of “One Love” in the neighborhood that produced Bob Marley.
Tears for “The Disappeared.” In another area of the city we stood in front a monument to the tears of children – the hundreds of them who had died violently in Kingston. Some 150 children go missing every month in this city – the equivalent of three school bus loads every 30 days. Some are known to be trafficked for sex or for servitude, though many are caught up in street-life and just disappear. We exposed our leaders to a variety of solutions and a call for the church to be a voice for these voiceless victims in their own cities.
What’s in a Name? Another of our students, Albert West, is leading an effort in Mountain View, an innocuous sounding section of East Kingston whose violence belies its pretty name. In a one-month period just a few years ago 50 people lost their lives to gang/political ruthlessness. Pastor West works with 25 other pastors on a fragile peace there, and an even more fragile coalition. We studied the complexities of this task in honest dialogue and absorbed the anguished passion of our student for transformation. Again, we walked the streets and felt Albert’s grateful amazement that peace had emerged and was holding. We heard of his efforts working with pregnant Moms, unemployed men, health counseling, and providing educational opportunities, all in the name of Christ, with a full contingent of intercessors for the community. We also absorbed his fatigue and his humility.
Half the leaders we were training were Jamaican, but the other half came from the Philippines, Bahamas and the U.S. These are very gifted people, intent on sharpening their vision and skill sets for the transformation of their cities. I wish you could have been with me as we wrestled over models of ministry and fashioned plans for building or re-shaping their current work back home. Seventeen leaders created 51 actionable items for their own cities as a result.
Distressing Disguise: But even as we focused on the systems of the city, on things that bring transformation to whole areas, for me, the images that I cannot get out of my mind are of our visit to Brothers of the Poor. This Mother Teresa-like group is pledged to take in the most physically and mentally deformed of Kingston’s children and adults and treat them with dignity and love. It is a skilled compassion for the most twisted bodies I have ever seen, from infant to adult. Our leaders learned how to see the image, indeed the fingerprints of God, through exterior deformities that threatened to obliterate it it. “Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor,” as Mother Teresa said. None of our group will ever see the most physically vulnerable of their own communities the same, nor let them be forgotten. We witnessed the joy of Christ made real in the care-givers and volunteers. And that is so much the point of our work.
Personal: After South Africa, then Jamaica I came home to trees that had turned to the maroons, yellows, and deep orange of fall – the colors that remake Fresno streets into tranquil rivers, with fire on the banks. It’s good to be home. We get to see our Canadian Grand Daughter, Elizabeth, (and Joe and Heidi too) as we travel to Vancouver for Christmas this year. Jameson and Sarah are ankle deep in teaching and ministry responsibilities, and Jameson has nearly completed his first seminary class. Aside from a short trip to Seattle next month and our visit to Vancouver, there is no more required travel until Ghana in January.